A Tale of Two Mountains (Hebrews 12:18-29)

Are there places that hold special meaning for you?  I don’t use the term “place” in any metaphorical sense—I mean are there places that evoke deep-seated memories?  For some, maybe it’s the restaurant where you met your spouse for the very first time.  Maybe it’s the smell of the halls of the old high school you visited for your reunion.

There’s a field of research out there called “environmental psychology,” which in turn describes something called “place attachment.”  As the name suggests, place attachment is the deep emotional connection between an individual and a specific geographic location.  For some, this brings back fond memories; for others, they remember past failures, or rejections, or pain.

The audience of Hebrews was stuck, it seems.  They felt a strong attachment to God’s promises—promises of peace and provision, of life abundant—yet they were increasingly treated as strangers in a culture that had become openly hostile.  And in that environment, the question that began to increasingly dominate their minds was one of hope.  What destiny could they count on?  Could God be relied on to keep his promises?

THE TWO MOUNTAINS

The Jews had enjoyed a strong sense of “place attachment.”  They had a place to look to—a mountain where Moses had once encountered God in a powerful way:

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them.20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” (Hebrews 12:18-21)

Even if you’d only seen the Charlton Heston movie, you recognize this as the momentous giving of the law.  The author of Hebrews uses this to contrast with the giving of the gospel:

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24)

Yes, the Jews had a physical place to look to in the past—but God’s present followers had a place to look to for the future. Originally Mount Zion was the site of David’s Jebusite stronghold—captured in the seventh year of his reign.  1 Kings 14:21 describes it as “…the city that the LORD had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there.”  Note that Jerusalem and Zion are often used interchangeably in scripture to denote God’s special earthly dwelling.  When Solomon built his temple on the hill to the north, the name Zion was extended to include this further area as well.

Now, the heavenly Zion would be the meeting place of all God’s people.  Paul writes that “…the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother (Gal 4:26).”  In Revelation, the New Jerusalem is seen as descending from Heaven to earth (Rev 21:2).

So the people of God have something to hope in indeed—a new promise and a fresh view of their destiny.  What would this mean for them?

CONSUMING FIRE

Borrowing some imagery from the Sinai story, the author of Hebrews issues another cautionary notice—that they remain not only committed to God’s kingdom, but grateful that they indeed do have a destiny:

25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:25-29)

“Home” is a tough thing to understand.  Some of us live a lifetime of “place attachment,” placing too great a significance on the past.  Have you never caught yourself thinking: “If only things were the way they used to be.”  Spiritually, this might mean we look back at our earlier experiences with God, wishing we could recreate those seasons of spiritual growth and passion.  We chase after worship albums and Bible studies in the vain hope that this passion might be rekindled by another religious project.  But the fire comes not from ourselves; God is a “consuming fire.”  Our faith can’t be defined by life experiences, therefore our sense of “belonging” will never be found in external practices.  That’s not to say that life in church community is unimportant.  On the contrary; this community can often be a crucible in which the fire of God is cultivated as you and I rub shoulders with other followers of Jesus.  But this also means that church—at least its external things—can never satisfy my soul.  God is my home.

See, when you’re young—and I’m talking about babies here—everywhere is new.  You haven’t developed any human sense of “place attachment.”  You doze off in a carseat.  You wake up somewhere you’ve never been.  This can go on for days.  See, for a young child, home isn’t a place; it’s in his father’s arms.  The same can be said of our heavenly Father—the same Father who disciplines us likewise becomes our source of security and joy.  Do you miss the past?  Are you skeptical of the future?  Could it be you’re looking toward your own story of faith rather than its Author and Perfecter?  Set your eyes forward.  Set your eyes on Jesus.  Set your eyes on Zion.

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